Written as a (…Christmas… O_o) gift for the wonderful Tierfal; her request was Matt/Mello and the AFI song "Affliction". Warnings: slash, explicit sex, language, death, blood, self-harm, allusions to suicide, allusions to underaged prostitution, weirdness, darkness, angst, heavy religious themes.
The fiery Los Angeles horizon is swallowing the sun with skyscraper teeth when the beautiful blond boy turns with cold eyes and says, "Kill them all."
The child - (no, man, for he is, and there is nothing more terrifying) - the man assigned to the notebook is eager, impatient with a kind of twisted fascination, and his eyes are bright. It's like a game - ring around the rosy, pocketful of posies, ashes to ashes; and two and a half thousand miles away, another boy stops playing to watch the world he's built fall down.
Nine people die, identities sinking into the book's greedy pages, but their epitaph is written in nightmares - because Mihael Keehl remembers the name and face of every one he's killed.
(Though he thinks of himself as Mello now, and Mihael feels more like a childhood friend than an identity - so far away he barely seems real, a picture-book past with yellow hair, blue eyes, and a pretty face. But Mello's hair is cornsilk now, and his eyes are ice, and he's so beautiful that people look at him and imagine doing terrible, terrible things to him.)
(Of course, between Mihael and Mello there was Mel - but he tries not to think about Mel very much, because he doesn't like to; it makes him question things he can't afford to question, especially tonight, because—)
"We found him."
Mello suspects it's more like He permitted us to find him.
"Show him in," orders Rod Ross. "Any friend of Mello's is a friend of mine."
(But he's not a friend of Mello's; he's a friend of Mel's, at least he was once, and Mello isn't ready, even though he's wearing his nicest boots and his sluttiest vest and his coldest eyes.)
Mello has his own personal brand of madness, and it involves destroying things he loves before others have the chance to. So when beautiful Matt walks into the room (confidently, and the others fade into insignificance, because they are Wammy's Boys and they can feel it), and he's even more perfect than Mello had imagined him, all slim muscle and blue eyes and red hair - Mello can't afford to love him, so instead, he considers how to use him.
(Matt loved him. When they were children, that is. Maybe. Maybe not. He probably doesn't care for Mello now, but perhaps he wants him - and Mello does know how to sell.)
He doesn't speak first, but he smiles at Matt, leaning back slightly where he sits on the sofa arm and spreading his legs a little wider. (Contempt is better than pity. He'd rather have hatred, but contempt will do.)
"What do you want?" Matt demands levelly.
"You," says Rod Ross, because Mello isn't answering. "Mello here says you're an old friend of his, and that you're good with computers."
"Oh, he's very good," Mello purrs. Matt eyes him coolly.
"Forgive me if I'm not eager to join the mafia," he says. "I hear the lifespan is short."
Rod Ross laughs. "You're not joining us; we just need one job. Have a seat and we'll talk it over."
"No thanks; I'd rather stand," Matt says shortly.
He stands. They talk. He agrees to do the job, and soon after, he's in front of a computer, leaning forward intently to scan the screen as he works. He's so out of place it's confusing, and Mello half-wonders if the others can see him, too - part-curious, part-calculating, he slinks over.
"Hey, handsome," he murmurs, sinking into Matt's lap and conforming against his (warm) body. He traces a finger down Matt's chest and leans, silky hair falling out of the way, to kiss his neck. (As though he belongs to Matt, because he'll like that.)
"I came here to work," Matt tells him coldly. "Not to watch you whore yourself to everything that moves. Don't you have rich old men to suck off somewhere?"
Mello rises with the dignity of a queen, stinging only faintly, without looking closely enough to identify the ugly smeared thing beneath Matt's boot heel.
(It was probably useless, anyway.)
"Your loss, honey," he remarks with a smirk.
(But it isn't.)
For some reason, Matt ends up hanging around the hideout, doing odd jobs and sinking inconspicuously into routine. Nobody seems to mind, except Mello, who does everything he can to keep Matt away.
"Look," Matt says one day, his temper short. "If you don't want me around, you can just say so. You don't have to keep thinking up excuses to get rid of me."
"I don't want you around," Mello says coldly. "You don't belong here." (Because it's easier than saying that there's a sick, wrong feeling in his stomach, as though he's waiting for something terrible to happen but doesn't know what it is.)
"Fine," Matt says shortly. "I'll leave you and your new friends alone." He pauses to let his eyes run disrespectfully over Mello's body, then adds, "Have fun."
(Mello doesn't understand why Matt is so angry. There's a distant memory tugging at his mind of words like "I love you" on the day he left, and hurtful things he might have said in return, but every time he thinks about that, he has to press his eyes shut and pretend it's not real. Children are stupid when they're fourteen.)
"You, too," he calls at Matt's retreating back. (Because Matt will be safe, even if it's in a house with a blood-red light over the door.)
(It's not safe here.)
Mello returns to the main room, where there's a sort-of-party in swing. He feels strangely drained - even more so by the energy around him - but he doesn't want to be alone in his room, so he drops down onto a sofa and tries both to ignore the noise around him and to let it distract him from his own thoughts. The long hand of the wall clock is circling around closer and closer to midnight, and Mello's head hurts.
Some idiot makes a toast.
Then the screams start.
(Death has a sound, and it's horrible to hear.)
Everything is a bit of a blur after that, except that they're coming for him and he can't get away, and before he knows it, he's standing with the detonator clutched in one shaking hand, realizing that he's the only one left alive and he can't get away, and there are armored figures pointing guns at him and shouting.
(When he presses his eyes shut, they don't go away, so he jams his finger down on the button before he has time to think about it.)
When Mello wakes up, it's strangely hard to breathe, and there's a funny burning smell, and he's half-lying in something that's tingling hotly against his cheek and shoulder.
He notices things gradually - it's hard to breathe because the air is full of smoke, the funny smell is him burning, and the thing he's half-lying in is on fire. (Fire. Oh, fire.)
Weakly, he rolls to the right, away from it, and that's when he realizes that he must have died after all - because he's in Hell.
Everything is in flames. There's fire all around him, embers nestled into crackling beams, flecks of ash drifting down to settle on him like snowflakes (he has the sudden utterly insane thought of swinging his arms and legs to see if he can make an Ash Angel) - but he can't move his legs because there's something heavy sending weird tingles up them, the kind that feel like they should be unbearable (and it's strangely unsettling that they aren't).
But he only has a moment to think about that, because when he frees his face from the burning thing, he's hit with a wave of pain so intense it's nauseating, and he screams, agony clawing at his smoke-stained throat. He tastes ash and blood on his tongue (pain), and (pain), coughing violently (pain), vomits weakly onto the ground beside his head (pain). And he doesn't— (pain pain pain pain; it hurts so much, so much he can't think). Where (pain) - somebody (pain) - hazily, he sees (pain) a black cell phone gleaming amidst a (pain) pile of electronics. One of the computers (pain) is on fire, but he manages to (pain) reach out a hand and drag the phone (pain) closer to him.
He barely has the strength to lift it and flip it open, and it hurts so much that he can't think. His thumb is too weak to press the keys, and his hand is shaking, so he puts it on the ground and dials with his index finger, painstakingly.
"Yeah?" the phone says, distantly and tinnily, and Mello almost wants to cry because he's not alone now.
"Matt," he rasps, pulling it closer. "I need you."
"That's a change," Matt remarks coolly. "Last time I checked, you didn't want me around. But what, now that you need something—"
"Matt," Mello interrupts weakly. "The building's on fire. I can't move my legs. I'm going to die." (And he's frightened.)
That gets Matt's attention.
"Where are you?" he demands, suddenly urgent. (Matt will come rescue him.)
"In the hideout," Mello murmurs. "We got attacked. I blew it up. They're all dead."
"You're a fucking idiot," Matt informs him shakily. "I'm coming. Don't move."
"Can't anyway," Mello whispers. It still hurts so bad when he thinks about it, and the smoke is making him dizzy; he's moving in and out of reality. (There's water dripping onto his forehead from somewhere in slow, fat drops - maybe a broken pipe. Drip, drip, drip.) He closes his eyes for a moment, and he hears the questions from the phone turn into panicked yelling, but he's too tired right now and he just needs to rest for a moment.
Time passes strangely, and he keeps falling asleep and waking up again, but when he thinks he's been out for ten or fifteen minutes at least, he checks the phone and it's only been two. It hurts, and it's getting harder to breathe. Things are still burning around him, crackling, falling, and he's not sure whether the wetness coating his throat and shoulders, making ash stick to him, is sweat or blood. His arm and his face still hurt so much, but right now he's more worried because it hurts to breathe.
When he gets whatever-it-is off of Mello's legs, half-feeling returns like needles plunging into the skin, and they hurt, and his arm and face still hurt hurt hurt. Matt picks him up, and Mello clings to him weakly, wrapping shaking arms around his shoulders. (His limbs don't feel heavy; they just feel empty.)
He's not quite sure how they make it out. He only knows that it feels like time has stopped moving, and it hurts, and he still can't breathe very well. He holds on tight, until he's in the trunk of Matt's car, because We'd never be able to explain it if someone saw you in the backseat; I promise I'll drive fast, and then there's a hellish ride in the dark. When it's over, they're in a cold parking garage and a cold service elevator and a cold corridor, and then finally the door opens and he's on the sofa. Matt murmurs that he needs to get water and bandages.
When his back is turned, Mello sees that his shirt is stained with ash and grime, and that there's a pair of bloody handprints spreading out from his shoulder blades like wings.
Mello realizes in the middle of a dream that he's going to live.
It's cold under the stars, blue darkness settling across the countryside, and he's crouched by the river that he almost drowned in when he was four, out back and down the hill from his parents' house, watching fog roll down the mountains as the sun sets and its last rays glimmer on the dark, rushing water. There are two other children with him, one he recognizes and one he doesn't - a pale little moon-boy and sharp-eyed Japanese child.
He looks into the river, and for a moment, he sees the most beautiful image of himself - dead, spread out in a bed of cinders, limbs askew and embers winking around him like stars. His face is pale and peaceful, and everywhere is dark and hot.
He bids it goodbye, decides to live, and pulls himself awake - but not before he sees a shadowy figure approaching through the mist on the other side of the river.
Mello is well enough to work soon after, but it's longer before he's ready to stand or go outdoors. When he is, he and Matt take a walk - and it's like he's woken from an enchanted sleep and stepped out into a different world.
Of course, he's heard the news about the Vice President's announcement. (He'll always think of him as the Vice President, because Mello knew the President, and respected him, and killed him, though he didn't mean to.) But nothing could have prepared Mello for the way that the people around him, taking example from their new leader, have changed.
They're sitting in a little diner, eating fish and chips, and Mello's paying careful, slow attention to licking the grease off his fingers. (Because the conversation at the next table makes him sick, and he doesn't want to look up and see Matt watching him.) When he can't stand it anymore, they finish their food and leave.
The sun is setting, and Mello's never felt more drained in his life. Everything seems entirely hopeless, and at the same time, he's never been so desperate. He can't go on like this; he needs to die, or he needs to live. He needs—
"Matt," he says as they wander through the park after hours, enjoying the solitude of the warm evening (because they live in a place as stubborn as Mello, which refuses to fade to autumn and instead clings to summer, alive). "Do you want me?"
"What?" Matt pauses to look at him with suspicious eyes (but he didn't say No).
"You want me," Mello says.
"You're a whore," Matt tells him.
Mello smiles. (But this time it doesn't hurt, because now he knows.)
"I see you look at me," he says calmly, tilting his head to one side so that his hair swings. Matt's eyes are shuttered - (but that only means he has something to hide). "Haven't you thought about what you'd like to do with me? Or to me. You know I wouldn't stop you; I like it rough."
Matt's eyes are narrowed. Mello's are half-lidded.
"Take me," he murmurs.
Matt shakes his head.
Mello smiles, tilts his head, and starts to dance.
(He can still feel Matt's eyes on him, but the world and the night and the heat swirl around him as he raises his arms, wrists crossed, and swings his hips slowly to a heavy Latin beat that hovers, lazy, in the thick warm air. The rhythm rolls his shoulders, tilts his head back, and closes his eyes with a small, soft sigh.)
Matt grabs him.
A moment later, they've stumbled off the path and fallen to the ground in a frenzy of gasping and groping, clawing and biting and kissing. Matt's pressing him against the still-warm earth, mouth on his throat, and Mello groans and throws his head back, hair spread out among the drying weeds.
They fuck right there in the dirt, like animals, wrapped in the dark heat of the night. It's rough, violent even, and it feels so good that it makes him scream.
Matt won't look at him on the silent ride home.
When he wakes up, the world is red. He's on his back in the bed, naked, the cool sheet drawn up to his waist and memories afloat - a haze of pain, someone carrying him through the doorway, and for a moment his mind skips back and he feels on his face for bandages, faintly confused when he doesn't find them.
He pauses, then blinks, because the world is still so very red, and there's a nervous, tense, panicky feeling in his chest. It's either early morning or early evening, he can't tell which, and red light is streaming through the window as though the building is engulfed in fire, staining the white sheets that cover him a bloody crimson. With a strange kind of fear, he sits up and looks around for Matt, because something feels wrong.
Something is wrong.
He can't find Matt.
Trembling now, he returns to the bed and curls up on it. He's disgusted with himself for his weakness, and he wants to banish and kill and destroy whatever it is making him so frightened, except the only problem is that it's the worst kind, the kind where he doesn't even know what it is.
Trying to ignore it, he lifts his laptop from the nightstand and opens it, going through a familiar routine. All of his mail accounts. All of his news feeds. All of ones that aren't really supposed to be news feeds but that he's using illegally as news feeds. And then the one that he's never bookmarked, even though he visits it religiously; he doesn't quite know why but he always types in the address.
It's the work of a man in Belgium, which Mello knows by investigation, and it's nothing but a black background, the title - À la Mémoire des Ombres - flanked by pictures of candles, and an endless list of names. Names, names, names - every person, to the public's knowledge, that Kira has ever killed. There's no invective against him, but neither is there support, and there are no numbers. It's not a scorecard - it's just what it says, a memorial to shadows. Real names if they're available; aliases if they aren't; asterisks for the anonymous.
(Mello wonders, sometimes, if he will ever appear on the list as an asterisk. Part of him likes the idea of becoming a star.)
He drags the scrollbar down to the bottom and looks the way he always does - eyes pressed shut, opening suddenly.
No new stars.
He lets out a breath without feeling relief, then gets up to search the apartment for Matt.
He can't find him.
Breathe, breathe. He's out on errands, he is all the time - Mello has a habit of seeing the worst even in the mundane. He knows Matt's just out running errands, but all the most terrible things that could happen are flashing through his head, and there's a tightness in his chest that's constricting his lungs. To calm himself, he lets his imagination run away with last night - sees Matt carry him into the apartment, sees them curl and meld and whisper together on the bed until they sleep, sees Matt wake and slip away to buy cigarettes, but kiss him first, because they were rough last night but he knows that Matt can be gentle, too.
Wandering aimlessly through the apartment, he lifts both hands to touch his face - to run over the burn, down his neck, along his shoulders. There are spots of pain, but every twinge is a mark left to claim him, and they ground him, and he smiles as he walks into the bathroom.
Then he looks in the mirror.
He's still naked, and the terrible burn still claws its way up his shoulder, neck, cheek - but other than that, his skin is smooth, white, and perfect.
There are no bruises.
There are no bites.
There are no marks.
Mello stares into the mirror for a full half a minute, mind alive with (why why why why it's not possible, he felt them last night and they must be there and it's impossible) - and then he screams.
It's like a nightmare, because the fear, the despair, the suffocating, overwhelming, inexplicable panic, they're all worse now, and his head is spinning with No, no, no. They're just hidden, the marks are; covered by a layer of smooth deceitful skin, and when he scrubs it off he'll find them.
There's water rushing over him before he even realizes that he's in the shower - so cold it's hot, or so hot it's cold. He doesn't know, and all he can focus on is scrubbing and not screaming and No, no, no. His hair is in his face, tangled, dark-blond strands sticking to his lips; his breathing is hitching like sobs; the convenience store's cheapest soap scrapes rosemary rashes against his arms; Matt is gone. (And will he not come again?)
He sinks weakly to the floor of the shower stall, rivulets of water pouring down his face, and sobs until it sounds like he's laughing. And when he finally opens his eyes against the stinging of the salt - giggles bubbling out of his mouth like blood, soap under his fingernails - he looks across to the shelf and finds plastic temptation.
Mihael Keehl was once strong, but Mello has always been weak.
(He presses his eyes shut before he starts, so he won't have to watch.)
He's never seen Matt so angry in his life.
"What the fuck did you think you were doing?" he shouts, shaking the rag-doll boy by his thin shoulders, hard, until Mello feels like his neck will snap from the way his head is flopping around. (Because he's too tired to hold it up; every limb is empty and exhausted, and Matt's screaming washes over him like a lullaby.)
Matt carries him out into the bedroom, presses him down on the comforter, and kisses him, suddenly, forcefully, desperately, as though the world is ending - (or as though it almost did). Mello wraps weary, blood-smeared arms around him and welcomes him in with murmurs and sighs and warm lips, gasping softly at how good it feels. It's all softness and safeness and swirling dizzy dreams, just like the kisses they stole from each other that month at the orphanage, where for one cycle of the moon, the world was more beautiful than daydreams, and real life really was like the movies. (Here's looking at you, kid.)
(It's strange, because unlike old photographs, his memories haven't faded - they've brightened and blurred, Crayola nostalgia.)
Matt tastes like the past, and Mello mumbles against a smoky-warm mouth and spreads his legs, as innocently as a child lifting arms towards its mother. Matt draws him closer and slips inside him, slow, careful, gentle, pausing a moment before his hips begin to rock in a rhythm that's almost soothing, and Mello lets his eyes fall half-closed as little murmur-sighs escape his lips. Everything is wrapped in warmth and softness, like being cradled in the clouds of a picnic-day sky, and he looks up into blue heavens of eyes and surrenders to sin that feels purer than prayer.
(And it's strange; he doesn't know where innocence would come from - he's sure he sold the last of it years ago - but even though he's lied and killed and stained his soul, polluted himself with cum and cocaine and chlamydia, even after being ruined beyond redemption, having Matt inside his body makes it a temple. Mello is supposed to be impossible to save.)
They shiver to a climax before sinking into soft silence, tangled together in the white bed. Mello's arms are still bleeding faintly, and Matt lifts each gently and kisses the wounds until his lips stain red, nipping at Mello's fingers to make him laugh.
Soon after, Matt falls asleep with his face nestled into Mello's neck, arms wrapped around his waist, smiling softly.
Mello lies awake, because he doesn't want to wake up.
This time, the dream is different.
For one, he's still awake - or at least, he doesn't remember falling asleep. And once again, he knows that he's going to live - but this time it's clouded, because he also knows that he's going to die. He's standing beside a river again, but now it's the one behind the orphanage, the one he stood by at dusk the day L died, and thought about drowning himself in, because it was his fault.
(Of course, it wasn't the day L died, it was the day he heard the news - and only later, when he'd left and it was too late to go back, did he realize that, and realize that L's computer had started its countdown two days before he'd let Matt kiss him behind the stable, and realize that God hadn't killed L to punish him.)
On that day, he didn't know any better. (He hadn't even remembered the river on the grounds until now, because if he had, he would have had to remember the things he said when Matt came to find him, and he couldn't.) He wishes he hadn't.
Matt doesn't come this time. Instead, his only companions are the two children from before - the ghost boy (all that remains of L) and the god boy (Janus).
Mello knows he's going to die soon, because this time, the vision is clearer than before. He's floating face-up in a lily pond draped with weeping willows, face pale, cold, still; eyes closed; silky hair suspended weightless in the water as weeds and flowers tangle around his body - a painting come to death.
It's harder to tear himself away this time, but he's not ready to meet the shadowy figure on the other side of the river - closer now; it's two forms walking side by side. He closes his eyes and wishes them away - (Let me go, please, you don't need me) - because he knows that if they ask, he will follow. (It's just that he's frightened.)
When he wakes up, Matt's asleep, head pillowed on Mello's thin chest, and they're bathed in the light of a beautiful, brilliant, bloody dawn.
There aren't many cars on the highway for this time of night. The signs are all in Japanese, but he speaks it well enough to read them, and anyway he knows his exit is coming up in a few minutes. Matt is dead. His forehead itches.
Idly, he adjusts the cap he has pulled over his eyes, because the brim is too tight and it's uncomfortable, but he can't loosen it while he's driving. It itches even worse; he sighs and gives up.
(He thinks it must be nice to die, because then the people who love you don't have to be afraid anymore.)
His back hurts. His rosary is heavy. The truck is heavy, too, and difficult to maneuver, but he pushes it onward.
(The only problem would be if you loved someone living, because you can't have them if you're dead. Mello imagines veiling himself with a shroud, standing alone in a cemetery, and throwing handfuls of rice into an open grave. Death is forever. If you were already dead, nothing could you part.)
He sits in the church and waits like an abandoned bride, clenching his fists until the nails have put deep red marks in his palms. He tastes salt and realizes that tears are running down his face; he wouldn't have thought he was crying because it feels so good.
He doesn't have to feel guilty anymore.
When it comes, the sharp pain in his chest feels like his heart breaking - and he's glad, because now he knows where it is.
(Hold on, I'm coming. Wait for me there.)
This time, it isn't a dream, and he knows he's going to die. He doesn't recognize the river, because it's almost too dark to see now. All he can pick out are the two boys-almost-men on the bank - the pale-haired one wears a mask, and the monster-eyed one stands ready to fall. They're facing each other, white and red - (white moves first; red in check). The game will be over soon.
He turns back to himself and realizes that the vision he sees is not dead but asleep, peacefully asleep, dreaming, and he knows it's time to go. He turns to the figures across the river - still dark; one with a hat pulled low over its eyes, the other slightly bent. He goes with them this time, because everything is right now.
That night, a man in Belgium adds two new stars to his makeshift heavens.
The Boy's alarm clock goes off, quite mysteriously, in the middle of the night.
When he sits up in bed, blinking sleepily, he can see that it does indeed read 9:25 - but it's still dark out. He wonders momentarily if it's a prank, before remembering that his roommate is away this weekend with the basketball team. It's Friday morning, early, and he doesn't have classes today, but he was planning to get up early to meet someone.
The alarm's still ringing, so he climbs out of bed, rubbing at his eyes, to turn it off. He crosses to the window next, lifting the blinds to peer out - but the horizon is dark. Shrugging, resigned to being up in the middle of the night and unwilling to go back to sleep immediately, he pulls on a tee shirt, jeans, and a jacket, then shuffles into his shoes, collects his keys, and slips out.
It's quiet in the dorm, and he doesn't run into anybody, except for one girl pacing on the landing of the stairwell and murmuring into her cell phone. He meets her eyes briefly, nods an acknowledgement, and continues down to the bottom floor and out.
He's glad that the campus is safe enough to permit walks at odd hours, and that it's in a place that never truly gets cold. The first of February is on Monday, but it's only faintly chilly, nipping at his nose and ears almost pleasantly. There's mist everywhere, thick enough to blur the streetlamps into halos of amber light; it softens his vision and clings, wet and clean, to his hair.
He makes his way across campus, breathing the cool, damp air and blinking mist out of his eyelashes. His feet carry him to the main quad, where a solitary figure waits - lamplight gleaming orange in its hair, breath condensing before its lips, familiar profile tilted up to the sky.
He crosses the courtyard, and the figure turns to him with a smile. They draw in close, no greetings or questions necessary, to share body heat and perhaps something more, then turn their faces upward, to where the clouds are clearing and the moon floats in a cobalt sea.
Together, they stand side by side to watch the stars.